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Don’t Let Your Expectations Push Away Your Adult Children

By Marci Seither
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We no longer get to make the "right" decision for our adult children. But we can keep our expectations from planting seeds of bitterness that may eventually overflow into our relationship with them.


I stared at the monitor. Maybe I had misread the private chat from Emma, our soon-to-be married daughter. Adjusting my glasses, I read it again. She wrote, “Thomas is wearing flip-flops to our wedding. We have talked about it. It has been decided.”

Flip-flops? The ceremony wasn’t a luau. What were they thinking? I typed a snarky retort back, “Your dad is going to walk you down the aisle in a kilt. We have talked about it. It has been decided.” He didn’t, of course.

When the big day arrived, I walked past rows of friends and family who had gathered to witness the exchanging of vows. Thomas stood at the front. His suit was pressed, his corsage was properly pinned — and he was wearing flip-flops.

My expectations for appropriate shoes on at a wedding day were not met. But seven years later, Thomas and Emma are still happily married, are living in their first home and have welcomed their second child into the world. Most of the time, Thomas still wears flip-flops. And over time, I have learned to better balance my expectations with what is none of my business.

Their choice

I should have acknowledged that what my soon-to-be son-in-law wore at his wedding was his and my daughter’s decision, not mine. And I definitely should have kept family matters more protected and private, instead of posting my snarky kilt response on Facebook.

Sherry Collier, a licensed family and marriage therapist, advises parents, “We should think in terms of seeking to understand what emotions or needs may be motivating our adult child’s choice. We can do this by asking questions out of caring curiosity and then actively listening.” Collier says that once we understand our young people’s motives, “We can either choose to remain silent or prayerfully respond with information they may find helpful.”

Your support

When our son Mark and daughter-in-law, Aarika, informed us that they would move 500 miles away for a job, I cried. Our youngest son, Jack, was in high school, and I loved that Mark and Aarika were close enough to come to his football games, stop in for dinner or have us over to their apartment.

But this was their decision, and it couldn’t be based on what would make my husband and I happiest. Instead of focusing on the things we were no longer able to do together and my disappointment, I chose to be thankful for the moments we have had with them. Once they left, I sent them pictures of Jack’s games so they wouldn’t miss out on the fun.

Your choice

Trying to convince or guilt adult children into making different choices is no way to maintain a healthy relationship with them. In fact, those kinds of interactions could result in long-term resentment. Collier says, “Our adult children can pick up on the motivations behind our verbal and nonverbal responses to their choices. Before we respond at all, we need to take a little time to calm ourselves, breathe, pray and remind ourselves that our long-term goal is to create mutually loving and respectful relationships.”

We can’t tell them which shoes to wear, where to work or where they can live. But we can extend grace for decisions that are different than ours. After all, we want to make our own choices. And adult children need to make theirs.

Copyrighted ©2018 by Marci Seither. Used by permission.


Understand How to Respect and Love your Son Well

Why doesn’t my son listen to me? Have you ever asked that question? The truth is, how you see your son and talk to him has a significant effect on how he thinks and acts. That’s why we want to help you. In fact, we’ve created a free five-part video series called “Recognizing Your Son’s Need for Respect” that will help you understand how showing respect, rather than shaming and badgering, will serve to motivate and guide your son.
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